Updated: May 14, 2021
Equipment by Henderson.
Walking through Toronto’s Rathnelly neighbourhood, with its large Victorian homes and gently sloping streets, you don’t immediately get the impression of an eccentric neighbourhood with a rebellious past.
But then you notice the street signs, complete with a coat of arms and with the words “Republic of Rathnelly.” You weave through alleyways with names like “Rebellion Lane” and “Stop Spadina Lane,” and you start to wonder. Then you see a bulletin board advertising the upcoming Winter Solstice Festival, and notices about the upcoming Annual General Meeting. You feel a creeping sense that you have entered another country.
And in a way, you have.
The Republic of Rathnelly “seceded” from Confederation in 1967, and by the end of the decade they had held their own Winter Olympic Games, organized a government, and began demanding money from the Canadian Government in foreign aid grants. They even had their own military (made up of kids armed with broomsticks) to threaten Pierre Trudeau’s government if they didn’t come through with the funds.
I promise you, I am not joking. Here’s the CBC footage to prove it.
I don’t think there has ever been a neighbourhood more in line with my own personal priorities. Every kid in that video is a hero, and they’re probably out there right now, grandparents by this point, taking their grandkids to the local park and telling them stories of the old days when they threatened civil war with cardboard shields and pointed sticks.
The playground that now lies at the centre of the Republic of Rathnelly shows up on Google Maps as the “High Level Pumping Station and Park,” but it’s known by locals simply as “Pump Park,” and since I have no desire to get on the bad side of anyone in the Republic, especially if they own a broom, I’m going to call it “Pump Park” too.
This is truly a hidden playground. There was no obvious signage from any of the streets that provide entrance; an outsider would think they were trespassing on the grounds of the Pumping Station, with its municipal government markings and industrial heft, and could easily pass within 50 metres of the playground without knowing it.
The best access point is through a tiny footpath just off the end of McMaster Avenue. It’s like something out of a Beatrix Potter illustration – greenery brushing the top of your head, trees whose trunks grow right through the fences that are powerless to stop them.
I was in love before we even saw the playground itself.
As smitten as I was, I have to admit that the playground isn’t great. The equipment is minimal but passable; an old-ish Henderson climber, some swings, some see-saws. I was surprised by the lack of shared toys, especially given the neighbourhood’s strong sense of community. But the place was just so peaceful, so delightfully secret, that I have to give it the “hidden gem” purple star.
And who knows? Maybe the neighbourhood is rallying the troops. Maybe the kids in that video now have kids of their own, and maybe those kids are preparing to demand money from Pierre Trudeau’s kid.
How awesome would that be?